They say social networking is destroying our social lives. They say social media is an addictive force that pushes our virtual friend counts to new heights while in reality we are becoming more isolated. They say that social media is ruining our social skills… I say, what the hell do THEY know?
While I can’t argue about the addictive qualities, I’m wondering: did ‘they’ miss the ‘social’ part of ‘social media’? Because, it’s like ‘social’ on speed. In fact, used properly, social media can do for one’s circle of friends what the digital camera has done for photos. You can amass an incredible number of friends through social media. While you may ‘keep’ the majority on your computer screen, you can select the best friendships to have with you IRL (‘in real life’ in social media lingo). I speak from experience; in fact, over the past year, the number of real, wonderful friendships that I’ve forged using social media, and which have made the leap to real life, greatly outnumbers the favorite photographs on my computer that I’ve chosen to print.
Admittedly, my social media usage is more than just recreational. With my job keeping me in the thick of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and whatever flavor-of-the-month social networking tool I’m experimenting with at any given time, I certainly have more exposure to social media and the folk therein, than the average user. About those folk therein: you see, it’s not just a big wide digital world filled with a billion random people any more than earth is ‘just a big wide world filled with 7 billion random people.’ When your life and likes follow certain consistent themes – and everyone’s does – you tend to bump into the same people. This is true in the world, and not any less true in social media. You see, in the social media world there are many ‘communities’ – no less real than the community you live in, the parent association at your kid’s school, the regulars at your local bar or the women’s league at your synagogue or church.
The social media communities I belong to include many Anglo immigrants to Israel and people all over the world who care about Israel. Both criteria are obvious and natural as these are the people with whom I share my passion and my biggest life choice; a huge commonality before we’ve even said – or typed – two words. I cannot count the number of honest-to-goodness friends I have made via social media; the number of tweetups I have gone to – or even organized, the number of connections I have helped make between my friends and contacts, or even the number of jobs I have been instrumental in helping people get because of social media. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.
It will soon be four years since I first used Twitter. I remember when, not long after I joined, my friend Ruth organized a ‘tweetup’ in Jerusalem, marketed via social media with an emphasis on twitter users. New to it myself, I had no idea what a tweetup was or what to expect. I imagined a bunch of people sitting around at a bar, staring at their hand-held devices, communicating with other attendees solely through tweets posted. A strange prospect indeed, but I went anyway, more out of curiosity than anything else. I was delighted to find the gathering like any other party or meet up. I won’t say that there was no tweeting going on, but hardly at the expense of the personal contact! So many hugs and true joy at putting a face to the twitter handle. And that was just the beginning.
I think that Estee Lavitt said it best in her blog after the epic ‘Israel Connection’ tweetup in NYC this summer that I was involved in (through my job as Social Media Coordinator at Nefesh B’Nefesh.)
Meeting Laura Ben-David for the first time at this event after tweeting with her for the past few months was as natural as visiting an old friend from high school. I know many others felt the same about meeting their “tweeps.” I had this experience with many people that evening; I did not have to introduce myself to new or old friends because we were simply “getting together” after our last chat. There were no awkward silences or conversations about the weather.”
But wait, there’s more. Social media isn’t just an incredible tool for cultivating friendships. It breaks down walls, removing many of the normal societal boundaries that usually govern friend connections. It’s mind-boggling. Remember in high school how all cliques formed ‘naturally’? The pretty girls; the jocks; the nerds; you get my drift. In social media the playing field is evened out. You’re a person on Twitter who cares about Israel? I’m a person on Twitter who cares about Israel. Whaddya know? We’ve got a fundamental commonality, probably mutual contacts, and, after a few overlapping interactions with a shared friend, we have what to talk about and are having our own conversations. You may be just starting your career, secular, ready to see the world. I’m a seasoned veteran, orthodox, seen the world and then some… It doesn’t matter. The normal boundaries that guide our friend prospects, such as age and demographics, are irrelevant in this virtual world. And when you meet the virtual contact in real life? It’s amazing, but when you already know who the person is on the inside, you don’t waste time judging them on the outside when you finally have the opportunity.
Social media may be a time sapper. Alright, it is; big time. It’s addictive, and can pull even the strongest personalities into a non-drug-induced stupor… People have to be responsible for setting their own limits. But social media is NOT a friend sapper. A very unscientific study amongst my social media colleagues indicated that the overwhelming majority felt social media greatly expanded their network of friends including real-life relationships. The social media nay-sayers can say whatever they want – and usually do. I say we’ve entered the social (media) revolution – and there’s no turning back, my friends.